According to a Queer Grrrl:Why Stonewall Survives to This Day
My Pride piece for 2012, is a look at LGBT activism and success over the last 30 years. The Stonewall Riots of 1969 in New York which led to the very first “Gay Pride” march in 1970, the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day. Canadian achievements will also be discussed. It’s a more in depth piece, my dear peeps. At the end of this feature, I have listed all the references that I used to compile this piece. They are a treasure trove of information that goes beyond what I have typed. I hope you enjoy it.
Being homosexual in the 1960′s was illegal. A person suspected of being homosexual could be put into prison, for life. It was no joke, and you could not even be “out.” There was no “out” of a closet, only “in”. This clip from a CBS news report by Mike Wallace, sums up the attitude of the “moral society” against all Gay people. Words like fag, faggot, dyke, and queer really were considered to be worse than swear words and if you happened to keep the company of one of “those people” you were considered to be just as bad. In this article, I do use each of these words. We have, as a modern LGBT movement, reclaimed these once considered foul words as ones of our own empowerment. We took these words back and made them OUR own. They are written here, within the context of the time.
Imagine not being able to get legally drunk in a gay bar. Knowing just walking in a “Gay Village” meant you were a target for police harassment. That was 1969 New York City, in small area of town, called Sherdian Square. Stonewall Inn was a gathering place for gay men, drag queens, dykes and assorted others who wanted to hang out with gay people. Only problem? The owners could not sell liquor legally, as they were not allowed to have a licenced establishment. Police raids were frequent at any place thought to have been frequented by gay people who were being served alcohol at an unlicensed establishment. No one was safe, and everyone hated it. After years of harassment by police, the general public attitude of what was “not normal” push came to shove at 53 Christopher Street. The Stonewall Inn was hit with a raid and that’s what started the Stonewall Riot that we know of today. The police wanted to check ID’s, bully people around, carry out arrests, and throw people into paddy wagons, just like they always had. They did not expect resistance. A wave of anger seemed to change everything. The patrons, just “snapped” and started their own “Rosa Parks” act of civil disobiediance. A riot started out with jeers and cheers of “Gay Power”. Pure “pandemonium” broke out which continued for 43 mins. In those early morning hours of Friday June 28th, 1969, under a full moon, the modern LGBT movement was ignited. Pennies, rocks, bottles thrown at the tactical police force. People also “starting small fires.” Policemen were injured and some took cover in the Stonewall Inn, to stay away from the angry mob outside. More arrests were made than expected. More people put into paddy wagons with aggression, then expected. The Stonewall Inn, swore to be open the next day.
Subsquent evenings brought even MORE protestors. On Saturday June 29 1969, a chorus of gay people showed up. Gay Power was on high octane. A group of “gay cheerleaders” had a chant that echoed through Sheridan Square. We are the Stonewall Girls
We wear our hair in curls
We have no underwear
We show our pubic hairs!”
400 protestors showed up and kept the Gay Power fever fire on a slow burn. Hand holding, kissing, groups of people hugging became the number one thing to do. “Screaming gay powerites” responded and created their own chants, sly inuendos and smart ass remarks. A platinum blonde drag queen, “quipped with obvious glee, I just want you all to know ..that sometimes being homosexual is a big pain in the ass.” Christopher Street became crowded and people started to find themselves into the local park. More chants were yelled out. The “forces of faggotry” flamed the cause. Then the call to march came out of nowhere. “Lets go down the street and see whats happening girls!” Marching along Christopher Street, alongside fellow dykes, allies and curious folks, they took their message to the streets. Little did they know that a tactical police force riot squad was waiting to meet them. More arrests, more injuries and a parking metre were thrown.
On Sunday June 30, things had “calmed down” somewhat. I believe that Lucian Truscott IV provides the best insite on what happened over the entire weekend. He was there and his 1st person account speaks volumes. This is an excerpt from his article, published in The Village Voice, July 3, 1969, p.1
“Sunday night was a time for watching and rapping. Gone were the “gay power” chants of Saturday, but not the new and open brand of exhibitionism. Steps, curbs, and the park provided props for what amounted to the Sunday fag follies as returning stars from the previous night’s performances stopped by to close the show for the weekend. “Older fags” looked disapringly on the “younger boys” and the choice to be so open. No longer did anyone feel the needed to hide their choices. The hand holding, smooching and “primping and fussing” lasted until 1:30 am when a “small TPF without helmets” came into the area. They swept out the park and the surronding area.”
Allen Ginsberg noted poet, and gay activist came by on Sunday to observe all the goings on. He commented to Lucien. “Gay power! Isn’t that great! We’re one of the largest minorities in the country — 10 percent, you know. It’s about time we did something to assert ourselves.” He waltzed into the Stonewall Inn and declared “You know, the guys there were so beautiful — they’ve lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago.” It was the first time Lucien had “heard that crowd described as beautiful.” Lucien’s last two sentences of his article pretty much sum up what happened on that weekend, and the way that Queers around the world reacted. “Watch out. The liberation is under way.”
This is an excellent Youtube clip. It’s a theatrical trailer for the documentary “Stonewall Uprising.” It really does bring an idea to you as to what was actually going on that night.
On June 28 1970, the first anniversary of Stonewall, the First Gay Pride March in U.S. history. It was called “Christopher Street Liberation Day.” Despite the permit being delivered a mere two hours before the march was to start, the excitement of the “young male and female homosexuals” became louder and louder. They had already celebrated the very first “Gay Pride Week.” The Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, named it as such, as they saw the importance of accommodating the interests of the many different groups that would participate.
The New York Times reported on June 30th, 1970 that “people from all over the Northeast marched from Greenwich Village to the Sheep Meadow in Central Park yesterday, proclaiming “the new strength and pride of the gay people.” 51 blocks of cheering, whistles and signs and banners. Expressions of honesty that had never been shown before. Drag queens in their finest dresses and wigs. There were both curious and supportive onlookers. They “applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign “I am a Lesbian” walked by.” There were no reports from the police. Instead, they watched as the march walked by. They were not harassing the marchers, who not even a year ago, had done so. Both events, occurring a year apart, set the world stage for “The Gay Liberation movement.”
In 1971, two cities, Los Angeles and Chicago held their Gay Pride Marches on the same day as the march in New York. 1972 saw other American cities such as Dallas and Boston as well as international cities: London, Paris, and West Berlin. Some cities did refer to it as the “Christopher Street Liberation Memorial Day.” while others had their own names. The two events, the Stonewall Riot, and the Gay Week festivities in New York galvanized queer activism internationally. The blood, sweat and tears of queers from all over the world had a day to look to, as a symbol of what was to come for them in terms of equality.
Canada connected publically to “Gay Power” in the 1970′s. In 1977, Quebec becomes the first jurisdiction “larger than a city or county in the world to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the public and private sectors.” In Toronto, from the early 70′s onwards, Gay Day Picnics at Hanlan’s Point and Cawthra Park were held. Large celebrations and ceremonies at the 519 Community Centre. Gay people, had voices and were strong in their activism.
On Thursday February 5, 1981, “Operation Soap” was executed by the Metropolitan Toronto Police against four gay bathhouses. It was a night of “286 men being arrested,” mostly under the morality squad “bawdy house law.” Men that were found in the bath house were processed as “foundlings” of those who were sex workers, trying to get money for sex. This was not the case for all of the men. That was just the charge that was dished out. I spoke with Brandy Bodis a proud dyke in her 50′s who was working downtown on the night of Frdiay Feb 6, 1981. She was working at Cinema 2000 as a bouncer. Her accounting of what went down was from her years of working with the Queer community in Toronto, and her own experiences of that night.
Here are her own words.
“For years, police and queers could not communicate. It was void and absent which led to violence against all Queers. It was based on years of negative sterotypes which led to mutual distrust. When the raid occured, it was reported to the police that underage sex workers were in one of the bath houses. The police went completely nuts. They raided four bath houses and started their brand of justified terror. The physical damage that was done to these establishments was insane. Sledgehammers to tear out walls, doors and windows. Everything was about anger. Anger towards the men who were in the bath houses, and anger against those who supported the very idea. In the first bath house raid, everyone was lined up naked in the shower stalls.
An officer muttered under his breathe “too bad that these shower heads are not connected to gas.” That sentence alone without the hundreds of men arrested was what got the entire queer community of Toronto ready for action. A march was quickly, yet expertly put together. When the big riot hit I worked nights and usually left at 1 am but that was not possible that night. The march was bigger than anything I had ever seen, and I was truly frightened for the first time as a resident of Toronto. The crush of people never seemed to end. When they came up to Cinema 2000, the weight of the people getting crunched up to the windows was unbearable. It was so loud! Everyone was chanting and blowing off their whistles.”!
Philip McLeod tells us his story, in an article published on Xtra’s website. The events of the previous nights raid, became “ad hoc work” and leaflets were being passed around “through the bars announcing a mass demonstration at Yonge and Wellesley.” This is his accounting.
“I got there at 11:45pm. I know homosexuality is something you “do in the dark,” but I hadn’t expected myself to be marching in the middle of Yonge St in the middle of the night with about 2,000 others. But there we all were at Yonge and Wellesley. Police in pairs, but not in great numbers, stood in doorways along the west side of Yonge. I stood and read a pamphlet entitled “Enough Is Enough” and with strategy absorption (under the watching – I hoped – eyes of the pair of policemen nearby) slowly read the message and stroked my beard thoughtfully and then crossed the street to join the crowd on the steps. “Stop the cops,” I shouted. “Stop the cops” came back. In a minute our oratorio of chants was in full throat. “No more raids.” “Gays have rights.” Voices would invent a chant. Everyone would join in. Then the miracle of our coalescing anger became manifest.
Out of the cold dark the thousands came. They packed the pavement. They overflowed into the gutter. Cars began to slow down. One by one, in groups, trekking in from the bars, the gays came on. Within half an hour all traffic was being rerouted. The intersection was packed. Here was the “rampage” in smiling shouting, laughing, hugging assembly. And here at last was the sound truck, here the speakers (“And now a few words from one of the found-ins.” “Well, like – Hi-ya – like, y’see last night I decided to have myself a little quiet social evening…’ A roar of approval.”
This is a clip from the documentary, “Track 2″. It captures the events that led up to and the actual march itself. It portrays the tension that existed at the time between queers and the police and the events that led after the raids.
This one night of activism, spawned a new dawn of human rights advocacy and the determination of all queer person’s rights in Canada. The perceived two sides of the fight, the police and moral majority, and queers with their allies set in motion many months of tension and numerous acts of activism speared directly from this one night.
There are many key dates in 1981 and 1982 that come directly from the riot on Feb 5th. MCC pastor Brent Hawkes begins a 25-day hunger strike on Feb 16th. A large demonstration and march was planned for Feb 20th. It’s purpose was to bring the masses to the police. I asked Brandy Bodis about the events of of that day of the March from Queens Park to the Police Station at Dundas and University, 52 division. Here are Brandy’s words.
“Well, first of all, there were WELL over 3,000 protesters It was almost as if all the people who couldn’t show up to the FIRST march, called their friends and told them to call THEIR friends. It was a Niagara Falls of people. They were everywhere and came from everywhere. The tension in the air downtown, even if you were not near the actual march, could be felt. The march itself was peaceful, but in a chaotic way. IT was like trying to herd cats. People were so mad, and angry….”
It is long believed that “Gay Liberation Day” on March 6, 1981 was Toronto’s first “Pride” event. Margaret Atwood and Svend Robinson, publicly denouncing the raids. On March 12th, Pastor Brent Hawkes agrees to end his hunger strike. Toronto City Council is asked to start an investigation with the mayor’s community and race relationshions adviser. A report is released by Arnold Bruner “Out of the Closet: Study of Relations Between Homosexual Community and Police,” on September 24th. It call for a recognition of the gay community as being legitimate. There needs to be permanent diaglog between police and the queer community. Then finally, on January 20, 1982 a statement was issued. Police Chief Jack Ackroyd states: “gay people are entitled to the same rights, respect, service and protection as all citizens”, and recognizing them as “legitimate members of the community”.
The Pussy Palace suffered the same fate of raids by police. They were at the once named “Club Toronto” and police women and men were instructed to enter the club, to check to make sure the “temporary liquor licence” which had been purchased specifically for the event “was in order.”
Here’s the kicker. The Pussy Palace had already been operating for 4 years in a row. Queer women and trans folk ONLY had ONE event, per year. The police literraly did rain on their parade. An outcry, and support for his fellow community members from Kyle Rae, the Councillor who represents the ward where the bathhouse was located. “This is an outrage to a community that has established itself as equal but different. The police have not been into a bathhouse investigating a complaint in almost 20 years. I’m shaking, I am so angry.” Other community members weighed in on the touchy subject of sexuality being at the centre versus human rights. From the Pussy Palace website, their direct statement. “This was a disturbing instance of homophobic police harassment and seriously draws into question the sincerity of the police as they claim to be building bridges with the lesbian, gay, bi and trans communities.”
Which brings us to today. We are one of the few countries where gay marriage is not only legal, but performed by clergy and justice of the peace. Fertility clinics and adoption agencies help same gender / transgender person’s have families. We may have followed the lead of our American cousins, but we have carved out our own niche of the marble rock of queer history. We fought for our rights to call ourselves proud Queer Canadians. Stonewall Survives to this day, as queers never stopped expecting our rights to be met.
Here are my references for this blog article. This LINK is from Columbia University. It is a complete look at Stonewall. I drew heavily on information from this web site, as there are articles from The New York Times, and New York Post.The Body Politic was the fore runner to Xtra. This provided me with the info i needed for what happened in here Toronto. This LINK gives you some additional information. The Toronto Star also provided a few of the pictures and background to the story. Also, Canadian History Comes Out provided me with information to help shape this piece. All of the Youtube videos in this blog are worth watching, as they do give even more to the story.
Brandy Bodis, who sat down with me last week over a cup of French Vanilla, mused that “the younger folk just don’t know how bad and hard it actually was for us in the 1980′s.” She is a 54 yr old dyke who has lived through the queer history of Toronto, and New York. I consulted with her on her personal knowledge of the subject matter. She has volunteered for Pride Toronto as a marshal and a security guard for many years. I owe her a beer at Pride.
This Youtube Clip is just plain sarcastic enough to make a point about WHY people are gay. I thought since this entire piece was pretty heavy, I would end it on a lighter note.